As the COVID vaccine rollout continues, some people are finding an unexpected upside to their pandemic weight gain — a faster route to vaccination. While obesity can raise your risk for COVID-19 and its worst outcomes, now it may put you ahead of others in the vaccination race.
That was the case for Andrew Lavin, 61, owner of a strategic communications firm in Port Washington, N.Y. He called his doctor as soon as he learned that his body mass index (BMI) — a measure used to estimate body fat and disease risk — might shorten his wait for a vaccine. “I tipped the scales at 203, and that was apparently enough to put me in the 30-plus BMI category,” he says.
While COVID has focused new attention on BMI, the measure was invented back in the early 1800s by a Belgian statistician as a way to study populations of people. The concept really took off in the early 1970s, when it was widely adopted by researchers and insurance companies.
BMI is expressed as a ratio of weight to height, and slots people into four categories based on their score: underweight (BMI below 18.5), normal or healthy weight (BMI of 18.5-24.9), overweight (BMI of 25.0-29.9), and obese (BMI of 30 and above). (Calculate yours here.)
Research shows that the higher your BMI, the higher your risk to be hospitalized with COVID-19 as well as heart disease, high blood pressure, breathing problems, type 2 diabetes, gallbladder disease and cancer.
But while BMI has served as a go-to yardstick for some time, “it's not a perfect measure,” says David Creel, a psychologist and registered dietitian at the Bariatric & Metabolic Institute at Cleveland Clinic.